When many of us think about our communities, we usually get feelings of safety, comfort and familiar surroundings. But what if you ask some of us about our communities and the answer turns out to be just the opposite of that? After conducting much research and interviews, I am here to welcome you into a totally different world of ugly truths. We typically hear of communities sticking together in times of need, and making sure the environment is kept livable. But what if I told you that there is also a flip side to this equation? The community that I have elected to shed light on is everything but safe. And to some it is not really a place that you would call home. It is filled with bloodshed, tears, and pain. But ironically, the same pain and tears that have been shed is the exact same thing that has given so many of us hope and perseverance. This is a tale of hope and triumph. Look up ahead. The sign reads, ”Welcome to Historic Fifth Ward”. Can you see it?
Beep! Beep! Beep! Damn! These are all noises expected to come from my Bedroom every morning. As I roll over to silence my annoying alarm clock, I wipe the cold from my eyes and proceed to get on bended knee, something I have practiced since I could remember. As I force myself to roll out of bed, kneeling down I pray to the same God that has watched over and protected my ancestors for many generations. Since the tender age of six myself and my Father, this is what I call Him, have become quite acquainted. It may become a little confusing as to why I refer to a higher being as my father. But maybe it’s because my own earthly father decided to disappear before I could even place eyes on him. Absent fathers is something that over a majority of kids in my community share. I remember reading in my high school biology class that a mother King Cobra will lay her eggs and keep her eggs warm for two months. After which, she must abandon her eggs in hopes that she will not eat them. In all similarity, maybe the father’s of my community felt the need to abandon their children because they felt they would corrupt us, and by some miracle we would all be saved. Ironically, just the opposite happened. Instead of our fathers eating us, the world has made its feast. And so here it is, I have found comfort and favor in my Heavenly Father. After giving much thanks and praises, I rise and stumble to the small, cramped restroom with dim lighting. It reeks of Motions hair care products and toilet deodorizer. I begin to brush my teeth and get prepared for school.
Shots ranged one cold winter’s day as we were all at the bus stop awaiting arrival of our overcrowded school bus. We all ducked and ran for cover, trying to make sense of what just happened. Well I’ll tell you what happened, one of our classmates had just witnessed his own father killing his mother. In my neighborhood losing members to gun violence was thought of as common, but this time it was different because it was his own father that committed the crime. Frank Wilson is his name. At the age of fifteen he could’ve easily passed for Twenty. I personally think it was because of his drug usage at an early age. Everyone knew Frank as the cool kid on the block. He always wore baggy jeans accompanied by an oversized hoodie. Everyone thought that Frank was a bad actor but in all reality Frank was the smartest kid in our class, sometimes things happen that way I guess. We are all hiding behind an old F-150. All five of us. We can feel the warmth coming from one another’s body, this is how close we are together. But suddenly Frank dashes from safety and runs full speed towards the shots. Frank has noticed that his mother has been the victim of the loud bangs we ran from. As he kneels down to grasp his lifeless mother into his hands, he cries out to Zion. This is the first time I ever witnessed a boy cry.
Fast forward fifteen years and here I am. Solid as a rock with corrupt reminders of where I have come from. One of those reminders I have kept in contact with continuously. Frank, a very dear friend, also a warrior. Even today, after all of these years, he still wears the stain of his father’s guilt. As I sit beside him I try to get a feel for where he is today. United States Penitentiary Tucson, in Tucson, Arizona, is where he resides for the remainder of his days on earth. I try to visit as often as my finances allow. So many young men in my community has chosen to take this same route. As I sit I try to grasp how such an articulate being could now be confined to nothing. We talk about his once dreams and aspirations, his father, and the brutality of his own crimes which has led him here. Five years ago Frank shot and killed another young man. “I have taken a life,” he says, “I am no better than my father, and now I must pay for what I have done”. I ask him why he did it and he replies, “I am my father’s son”. I can’t help but wonder, was he marked from birth? Were we all brought here to pay the ugly debt owed by our ancestors? Or is the answer as simple as apple pie? Is it our own humiliation, guilt and shame that has hurt us?
Frank’s story is the face of thousands of African American men that have grown up in the urban parts of America, such as my community Fifth Ward. Some may say that although he had a tragedy happen at a young age, it is still his responsibility to keep himself “together”. But what about teachers, family and friends? Where were they? Could his violent outburst really been due to a lack of affection and attention? Maybe the teacher or the counselor at school could have showed more effort and “saved him”. Maybe friends and family could have gotten closer and helped send him off to college in the fall. You see, there are so many maybes floating atop all of the foul smelling shit in my community. In turn, all of the tension that has been dwelling around for centuries is the cause of the breaking of the bond that was once shared in the black community. So thanks to that, Frank went from group home to group home. Growing up in the system only to return and stay. Frank stated once that America is not and will never belong to African Americans. He says that our riches are in Zion. Our heritage, traditions, and way of life have been stripped away from us like a zebra of his stripes. If you take away the stripes from a zebra, who knows that is a zebra? The same way with people. If someone were to take away your heritage, traditions, and customs, if not for someone teaching and showing you, how would you learn? I feel that somewhere along the lines Frank became lost and couldn’t find his way back. But who will help the Frank’s in today’s communities? Who will show them the way back to Zion? I will. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes I am.
You see the resilient aspect to this story is that through all of the broken glass and beer bottles, along with crushed dreams and spirits, is that there is still hope. And wherever there is hope there is life. At the age of twenty- seven now, I never dreamed in one million years that I would graduate high school, let alone attend college. My hope has been the blessing of my sanity. Hopefully the hope that I posses for others will one day be enough to help raise my community up. But until that day, I will continue to fight and persevere through these marshlands but never becoming a nomad. For I know where I belong.
Quana Minor is a student at Lone Star College. She read an excerpt from the essay at the distinguished Campus Words series.